Its just 8 weeks to go until the 2015 Chelsea Flower opens its doors to the world. In a sleepy corner of Somerset, Kelways Plants is humming. With over 23,000 plants being contract grown for 7 Main Avenue and Fresh Show Gardens, and many thousands of others ready for last minute additions and trade stands, the nursery is overflowing with plants.
Gary House, Kelways Nursery Manager and his youthful yet experienced team of local staff have the 18th May firmly ingrained in their heads. Each day owner Dave Root and Gary walk the entire nursery, assessing the growth and development of each batch of plants. Daily decisions are made to move some plants to a cooler spot to hold them back and others to a warmer brighter spots to speed them up.
The nursery has at least 9 different growing areas and holding zones, each with a different environment. “We grow each batch of plants in the right place for the stage of growth” says Gary. “It means that plants for different designers and gardens sit side by side, but all clearly labelled for when the client visits. We are in daily contact with our clients at this stage.”
Some of the plants for Chelsea are quick growing annuals, herbs, and other native wildflowers from all over the world. Kelways propagation unit is run by Sue Blackwell, who with many years of propagation experience is unflustered by the demands of growing for Chelsea. “The challenge is starting the seeds off in December when the light levels are low and it’s all rather damp”, says Sue. “It’s a relief when we get to March and the light levels increase; you can almost see them growing! Sue is well used to Dave giving her packets of seeds of obscure native plants from all corners of the world. “That’s the challenge of Chelsea….I love it!” she quips.
Dave himself has spent much of the past four months accompanying Kelways Chelsea Clients on trips around the UK and Europe selecting trees and larger plants for their gardens. Amongst his trips, he’s been to the edge of Southern Spain and chosen Cacti and succulents with Sarah Eberle, followed by trips to Italy and Holland to chose trees for Kamelia Bin Zaal, and then a visit to the finest Tree Nursery in the world in Belgium with Charlie Albone who flew 12,000 miles to join Dave and choose some special trees for his garden. “Chelsea demands the best plants, and often this means sourcing outside the UK, particularly for the tropical, Australian and arid plants” says Dave.
Despite the cold winds of the last couple of weeks, the 2015 spring is quite an early one, and Kelways peony and iris growers are keeping a close eye on the weather and the red emerging shoots on the peonies for Chelsea. Even at this stage they can count the number of flower buds on every plant and know exactly what they will get in flower. Peonies grow during the night, and every day it’s an exciting moment to walk into the peony area, and see what has happened overnight.
Particularly exciting for Dave is Kelways first ever Tree Fern exhibit at Chelsea, managed by Rob Parsons, the youngest floral exhibitor at the 2015 Show. In the Tree Fern Tunnel, fronds on some of the unusual species of Cyathea quietly unfurl, justly fitting of a prehistoric plant, and seemingly oblivious to the bustling activity around the nursery. “The Tree Fern house is my retreat,” sighs Dave with a grin, pausing momentarily.